By KENNETH R. FLETCHER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS (November 15, 2007) - The House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that outlines how a dedicated Chesapeake Bay cleanup fund would be used to reduce runoff pollution in Maryland's waterways.
The House is expected to give final approval to the bill Thursday and then wrangle with the Senate, which has passed a similar bill but identified another source of funds for the $50 million program.
Both chambers would create a Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund that would be used to help meet goals laid out by the government's Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, which pledged to reduce nutrient pollution in the bay by certain amounts by 2010.
"This moves us a considerable step towards meeting those goals," said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, the bill's sponsor. She told the House the bill is estimated to meet 60 to 80 percent of the 2010 goals.
McIntosh's bill has gone through several versions since its inception as the "Green Fund" in the House Environmental Matters Committee. That bill would have imposed a tax on homes and impervious surfaces like parking lots and rooftops, but that tax was rejected in the face of Senate opposition.
Instead, the House on Saturday voted to dedicate about $50 million to the Chesapeake fund, with money coming from about 55 percent of a car rental tax and 2 percent of the motor fuel tax.
The Senate has already voted to dedicate about $50 million to the fund, but it would take the money from Program Open Space, which preserves rural land, and an increase in the vehicle excise tax.
McIntosh said she opposes using Program Open Space funds for funding and hopes that the House will prevail.
Kim Coble of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who passed out crab-shaped cookie cutters to delegates before the session, said she also opposes the Senate funding source, which would "take from Peter to pay Paul."
Under the House bill, at least 30 percent of the funds would go to the Department of Agriculture for farm programs like cover crops, which reduce runoff pollution by growing on otherwise empty fields during the winter. Another 30 percent would go to local government grants for Chesapeake programs and no more than 10 percent would go to the Department of Natural Resources for municipal park development and waterway restoration programs.
Allocation would be determined by Maryland's new BayStat program, which follows nutrient reduction programs. Officials say that as conditions change year to year, BayStat will provide funding where it is needed most.
While the Senate has approved a funding source, it has not yet adopted a bill detailing exactly how the money will be spent.